Memories of A Glittering Christmas,
During A Time of Darkness.
It was the year of 1947 in Austria. We were Displaced Persons, (DP) from Yugoslavia with a German name. My father having been threatened by political groups in Croatia, found these threats, on our lives, a reason to flee the country in November 1944. We left with two suitcases and a couple of crates on the last train out of Croatia/Yugoslavia to Vienna, Austria, where we found initial help from my mother’s Viennese classmates. Mother graduated from a “Finishing School” in Vienna a few years before she married. She had kept in touch with her friends and through them we found help.
However, the war torn Austria and its very kind people could not keep up with the demands and needs of the thousands of refugees. We ended in refugee camps and were provided with food and shelter through the International Red Cross. CARE packages came to people who were fortunate enough to have had connections with the United States. My father’s cousin lived in Miami, Florida at that time, and who sent us several CARE packages which my parents received with grateful harts.
It was during Christmas time that my parents felt the greatest pain of having had to leave their home and family members. And yet, it was times like these that their wish to give their children the best they could that made them unbelievably resourceful.
I cannot remember any of the Christmases during these refugee years to ever having been sad. We always had wonderful surprises and exciting moments of happiness.
It was December 24th 1947 when late in the afternoon my friend Helga and her brother Peter together with their father came to pick up my brother and me, to go for a hike in the nearby woods. Slowly dusk embraced us, the snow turned deep blue becoming the color of the sky. We were bundled up in high lased shoes, woolen stockings, heavy coats, knitted caps and mittens, having received them from the American Red Cross earlier that week. Still we felt cold and felt our bones and teeth chatter. Helga’s father encouraged us to walk faster to get warm. Our little feet had a hard time to get through the just fallen snow, which reached almost to our knees. Soon we began to warm up while listening to his childhood stories and memories of Christmases long past in Bohemia. Before we knew how it happened it was dark and only the stars and the upcoming moon lit our path. We were on our way home, and arriving at each of our respective doors in the building where we lived, we shook off the snow and felt the glowing warmth on our cheeks and a tingling in our fingertips and toes.
We were warm and full of excitement with the expectations,
and the glories of Christmas Eve.
The door opened and there was the most beautiful, sparkling Christmas tree I have ever seen. It reached almost to the ceiling and glittered in silver and light. The light came from real candles and the silver came from hand cut strips of foil (Lametta). My mother had collected fancy chocolate wrappers before the war and had made a big round ball of it, which she took with her in her suitcase when we fled from our home in Croatia. The only other decorations on the tree were a few chocolate candies, which came in a “CARE package from Cousin Eve in Miami, Florida. There were new red mittens for my brother and me and matching new caps, a doll with beautiful blue eyes and eyelashes and real hair, and several little dresses for her, a little pillow and an embroidered pillowcase and a little blanket to cover her…also from Cousin Eve.
Christmas was the most wonderful time in my life.
After the “Bescherung,” and after we had opened all of our gifts, mother asked us to come to the table for dinner. Mother was a wonderful cook and could prepare a meal with the least ingredients. When we finished we gathered with other refugee friends in the hallways to show off our surprises. We all waited long enough to bundle up again, ather lit some lanterns and we walk to church for the Midnight Mass.
Out on the street, seeing all the people with lanterns walking toward the church, and hearing the crunch of every footstep in the stillness of the night made a lifelong impression on me. No one spoke. Everyone was silent and involved with his or her own thoughts. It was the time of night which filled me with the mystery of Christmas and which to this day I still feel.
In memory of a Christmas long past
when my family had so little,
and yet so much,
I would like to share a Honig Busserl (Honey Kiss Cookie) recipes
that can be baked several weeks before this very special holiday.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups honey
2/3 cup water
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
(I preferred to use non-traditional fresh ginger)
Heat the above ingredients in a saucepan, do not boil.
Remove from heat and let it steep for 10-15 min.
Strain it before adding to the flour mixture.
Into a large bowl place the following ingredients.
7 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cloves
Mix all ingredients in the bowl and add the butter/honey mixture.
Mix well with a wooden spoon.
Transfer the dough into a smaller bowl and cool in refrigerator for about 2 hrs.
Before rolling the dough out bring it to room temperature. the dough is a hard
dough – much like play-dough.
Roll it out to be about 1/4 inch in thickness and then cut out any shapes you like.
Bake at 375 F for about 10 min. or until the gingerbread is lightly browned.
Use an electric mixer or electric hand mixer.
Take a 1lb box confectioner sugar and add 2 egg whites from size large eggs.
Mix till it becomes a fluffy paste. The paste should be like a thick marshmallow cream.
Use a disposable pastry bag with a Wilton Star Tip #18.
Or……..use a plastic freezer bag cutting the tip off of one of the corners.
Be careful not to cut too big of a hole, it has to be very small.
This icing can be refrigerated for about two days. Before use it should be
brought back to room temp.
From my home to yours I wish you a very Merry Christmas,
and the jolliest Holiday ever!